Tito’s Paradise Eco Beach, Black Johnson Beach, Western Peninsular, Sierra Leone, West Africa
We live in a wooden house on Black Johnson Beach, Off the Main Peninsular Road, Black Johnson Village, Western Peninsular, Sierra Leone, a very beautiful, rural area of Sierra Leone. We call our beach Tito’s Paradise Eco Beach and we believe it is truly the finest place in the world to live. Here the rainforest literally spills onto the beach and the rhythms of the sea, the forest (the bush), the seasons, the night sky and nature are predominant in our lives.

To put things in context please allow me to begin by describing the physical relationship between Black Johnson Beach Community (aka Tito’s Paradise Eco Beach) and Black Johnson Village.
The beach and the village are between 15 and 30 minutes walk away, depending on which route is taken, whether it is rainy or dry season, how hard the rain is falling if the former and the state of the tide. There is no vehicular access from the village to the beach but in any event only the Headman has a car, which he runs as a taxi.
The first route is to the right of the wooden house as it faces the sea. At the moment a person sets off across a fresh water stream that opens up through the bush and runs right down to the sea, curving to the right of the island which is in front of the house.

This stream only flows down to the beach in the rainy season and is dry from mid January. Then there is a small trek along a beach until a small pathway into the bush is reached. From here the winding path is followed around fallen trees and underneath a tall canopy of greenery. After a short distance an old local slave pathway is reached and followed. There is a small, mainly still intact, stone bridge over the now (rainy season), gushing stream, this is at the bottom of a staircase-like series of small, shallow waterfalls. It is always a pleasure just to stop and listen to the sound of all of this when returning to the beach.
After this the narrow, pathway rises steeply in bending curves both around and up and over a series of rocks and logs. After 10 minutes or so a clearing in the bush is reached and the pathway emerges in a well defined double track, where it would even be possible to drive a car. It is a red, rough stone path but here it is easy and quick walking. This pathway shortly after reaches another similar but very slightly wider pathway and it is this one that leads to the small, steep climb up to the railing by the roadside. This is the way we all go and come to meet the various pathways down to the beach and all the taxi drivers know to drop the beach people “by the railing.”
This route becomes impassable at the crossing of the stream stage at high tide in the rainy season because the stream and sea become one and reach right up to the forest.
Route two starts to the left of the house. It goes along the beach towards the island on that side.

There it turns left again across a second very small beach, the home to more than one million crabs. I have not actually counted them but I am sure of my estimate.
At the other end of this little cove there is another stream that only appears in the rainy season, this one is more like a small river. It is still passable, again apart from high tide. Once the river is crossed then there is a narrow, narrow path, reached by stepping over a fallen log, which cuts through the bush that separates this beach from the next and final beach that make up the Black Johnson beaches.
This pathway is a joy to walk through. The scent of sweet Jasmine fills the air and sometimes I just take some moments to stand and smell the beautiful aroma that surrounds anyone walking on this path.
Once the final beach has been reached the end of the largest track, coming directly from the railing, emerges there. This route is just manageable by a strong 4×4, any other vehicle should stop at the start of the very steep hill side near the bottom of this track; it is at least 3 in 1 if not steeper. This part is only about 50 meters in distance and could almost be described as a personal gym when a person is ascending. To me the descent is much more of a challenge, particularly after a few Star beers and in the dark!
Once the turning place where cars must stop has been reached, then the walk is a simple one along the largest of the tracks to the railing.
The third way takes the longest in time. It begins from the back of the house and takes the smallest and barely discernable winding track directly through the middle of the bush which is our back garden.

Day by day during the rains the bush grows at an amazing rate and in the very severe winds that often precede the heaviest of the rainfalls, trees and bushes fall down. This results in frequent blockages on this pathway, which need to be macheted down to allow for passage. Even at its best this pathway needs careful negotiation, well for me anyway, as there are many, many tree stumps and long strands of plant life, that seem only designed to trip me up. This all has to be done whilst dodging the branches and twigs at eye and head level at the same time.
This route becomes somewhat waterlogged after the rains. This necessitates wading through muddy but clean, fresh, water for about five meters, luckily at the end of this there is a clear babbling stream to wash off the mud and make a person fit for Freetown. This is the only way passable at high tide in the rainy season.
Whichever path is used there is a wonderful sound of bird song and calls supplemented by the crickets and frogs. All three routes have a very evocative smell for me, reminding me of childhood walks through damp forests in the UK during school holidays and the air is deliciously fresh and clean.
I set off each morning on my way to the city using one of these routes. I sometimes smile if the weather is good and I am already dressed in my city suit skirt (I carry my jacket in my bag until I get there and actually go to meet someone) at the thought of the start to my Freetown business days. If it is raining when I have to leave then I wear my swimming costume and shorts to walk up and change into my city gear in the village whilst waiting for transport.
Despite all of this the people in the village and the people on the beach come and go to each nearly every day but we are seen as separate entities. This was emphasised recently in the village elections.
Recently there were both area Headman elections followed by village elections. The area elections were great fun. Election campaigning takes two main forms; one driving around in a packed taxi with a loudhailer shouting for the candidate, in a similar fashion to the UK, with its little differences. Two is holding election parties.
The election parties are fantastic events and it is party time for at least a month. There were two candidates in this area and both of the candidates are expected to hold a party night in each of the villages in the area. There are many villages in the area and each one had two parties during the election campaign. People from Black Johnson went to all the parties and on arrival greeted each other as if they were long lost relatives instead of neighbours who had only parted company shortly before. All the other villages greeted us all with” welcome Black Johnson”. Then we danced the evening away to very large and loud sound systems.
When the election results were announced the new Chief held a big party in York, the area headquarters, where he lives and where we buy our fish if we don’t catch it ourselves. It was a great event. First of all there was a procession with traditional, cultural drummers. This was followed by some speeches then there was music and dancing with the music being supplied by Pa Brown’s music system. Pa is a term of respect for an older person or a senior or well respected person. Pa Brown is a DJ from York with his own very good music system. At the tender age of at least 60 years old, he may not be the stereotypical DJ in UK terms but he is brilliant. This man has stamina. At our Christmas party he played until 04.00 from 19.00hours on Christmas Eve, the Watch Night, slept at our place on the veranda then rose early and played all day Christmas Day and all night Christmas Night again. That is stamina!! He is also a really good DJ and a lovely man as well.
A couple of weeks after the area elections each village was required to have its own village meetings to allocate responsibilities for the village. Black Johnson is a small village and the positions nearly outnumbered the people.
Here are the results:
Pa Lamin was confirmed as village Headman and Edward as Deputy Chief. Then a lovely Limba (a tribe described later) man was chosen to be in charge of the Limba and a Fullah man that I don’t know in charge of the Fullah.
Priscilla, a wonderful, kind and generous woman was elected to be in charge of women’s affairs. So if any woman has a problem with her man, she can complain to Priscilla. Edward’s elder wife was chosen to be Priscilla’s policewoman and his younger wife her deputy policewoman (the men had better watch out if she decides to arrest them I am telling you).
Lansinar is the Harbourmaster and Edward is in charge of protecting the forest.
Mary or Porto, as she is known more familiarly, was chosen to be village secretary. Porto objected on the grounds that she cannot read and write but her objection was overruled and she was allocated the position. She has decided she can tell everyone the happenings and has already helped with a problem in the village.
Finally all the 14 year old boys have been chosen to be village policemen.
The beach contingent had three people go to observe the village elections and Tito, the Tito of Tito’s Paradise Eco Beach, was greatly amused that all the policemen still go to school.
The village said the beach had to have its own elections and so we all sat on the kitchen log and had a laughter filled meeting. There are only six of us down here so we have all been allocated positions.
First let me introduce the people giving their familiar and then their proper names.
On the beach we have Tito (Tommy) and Janey, Aunty Jane, Mammy etc (me, Jane), who have set up the place. Twin (Alusine), is the amazing carpenter who has done and continues to do all the building. Kalimba is Kalimba and is only known by all people as Kalimba. He is Limba by tribe. The Limba tribe know the bush and the forest inside, outside, backwards and forwards. They are the only people who collect Poyo (palm wine). Kalimba keeps us well supplied with Poyo and he is also the best escort through the bush at any time of day or night. He can trap and kill snakes and small dear for us to eat. He knows where to find all the wood for our large bonfires, the honey bees, various herbs and spice and things like menthol that I ask him for. Bompranney (Ibrahim) is a driver and a great all rounder. He has a good sense of humour and recounts many funny stories on the kitchen log. Mommy (Monica) is the person in charge of the cooking, although all of us join in that task and Porto (Mary) works her garden and helps around here generally. Although Porto is strictly speaking “village” she shares her time about half and half and works down here as well. Finally Umoru (Umoru is his proper name and as yet he does not have a beach familiar name), is a young man of 16 years of age who is amazingly strong and a willing and hard worker.
Our election results were as follows:
Tito and I are joint chiefs, we decided not to have a head and deputy but also acknowledge that this could result in problems if we don’t agree. Bompranney is the army; we thought this was one up on the village, which doesn’t have an army. Twin, a massive and strong man, who can easily carry half a huge tree trunk, is the policeman. Kalimba is in charge of the bush and Umoru is our harbourmaster. Mommy is in charge of woman’s affairs and Porto (doubling on the beach) is Mommy’s policewoman. I said if I disagree with Tito I will complain to Mommy and Porto can arrest him. Everyone enjoyed our elections.
The kitchen log is our main talking place. It is about fifteen foot long and spans the long side of the kitchen; it is where everyone sits if we are not actively seeing to guests and me when I am not in Freetown. It is where all the main events in our lives are rehearsed and discussed. I love this oral tradition and join in with enthusiasm. We also hold interesting discussion here covering all kinds of subjects, like is it possible for a woman to be turned into half woman, half snake? When I give a lengthy explanation about cold blooded and warm blooded animals and say why therefore I conclude this is impossible, everyone just laughs and says “Janey doesn’t believe, will you believe if we bring a photograph?.” I am still fighting a losing battle with some but not all people about African sheep conceiving babies without a male sheep but instead during a thunder and lightning storm on their own, although I have managed to convince people it is possible for sheep to be artificially inseminated with a very graphic description that seemed to resonate.
Where we live is in the Western Peninsular Rain Forest. It is a rural area and quite, quite different from the hustle and bustle of Freetown or the sophisticated nightlife of the Aberdeen area with its discos, casinos, bars, restaurants and lights. We have quite a different way of life and having lived happily in both I have to say I prefer here, even though Tito, Bompranney, Mommy and I still visit Aberdeen quite regularly to see our friend who is a member of the National Dance Troupe.
Let me give you some examples.
The Road Traffic Act of Sierra Leone 2008 brought in some major changes in particular but not exclusively, to the public transport system.
There are three main forms of public transport in and around Freetown and the Peninsular, listed below but in no particular order:
1 Shared taxis. They have set routes and set prices. It is also possible to charter one of these for a negotiated price, by destination or hourly rate.
2 Poda- poda, a shared minibus taxi. It has extra seats that slide out on each row so every row sits four people. Twenty two passengers is the norm in Freetown.
3 Okada, motorbike taxis, which are very handy for moving around the traffic congestion in Freetown.
There are national buses as well that have recently been reintroduced but they tend to do the long distance routes to the provinces (up line).
So the Road Traffic Act 2008 for example: introduced compulsory seat belts in the front seat of cars, limits the number of passengers to the number of seats available i.e. four in the back and one in the front and made crash helmets for both rider and passenger on Okadas a requirement.
So that is Freetown transport and there are many traffic police there making sure these laws are followed.
Here in the Western Peninsular things are not quite the same. Transport is a problem. There are few cars that travel the route between Waterloo, the nearest town, where we do our shopping, and Tokeh, a point about twelve miles further on the only road to and from Black Johnson. The taxi’s running this route would not be able to pass the Calaba Town police check point at the far eastern side of Freetown, most do not have full windscreens, rear view mirrors, any mirrors, four working doors, any one, two, three, four of the windows, starter keys. Most have to be started by a push start or the driver asking someone to open the bonnet and squeeze something.
We sit in Ecu’s bar and book our seats in the transport and then wait until it fills up with passengers whereupon someone will come and fetch us to join the car. Loads of goods are nearly as expensive as passengers so we will put the “load” in before we sit to await the filling up of the car. Ours will usually consist of items like crates of beer and soft drink, bags of rice, a big block of ice etc.
Now because transport is so limited people in the Western Peninsular have “to manage” transport. Managing is one of the things I so admire about this country. If a person does not have enough money or anything else, when asked they will say “I will manage it”. The thing is that this actually does happen, People share food, clothes, practically everything and somehow it works; so managing transport takes its own form.
It works like this: In the back seat there are a minimum of four/five people setting off. This can increase as the journey progresses. In the front passenger seat there are two people. Someone is also expected to share the driver’s seat. The drivers usually choose a slim person to do this and I am often on the list. I can tell you this brings a new concept to the term “back seat driving”. Then the boot, as well as a load, may carry two people sitting inside with their feet hanging out of the back. Additionally someone may be required to sit on the front bonnet on the opposite side to the driver. I asked Tito, who often travels this way, how the person stays on. He told me “you hold onto the windscreen wiper with one hand, it’s perfectly safe”!!! The cars travel at 80 KM an hour along the Peninsular Road; I somehow do not think this concept will catch on as a big health and safety promotion in the UK; it is not going to beat seat belts for example.
The spirit of co-operation though is amazing. Two schoolgirls were trying to get transport along the road; the car was already full in the Peninsular Road meaning of that word. Two of the men told the driver to stop and let them in. When the driver said there was no room left one replied “we will manage, you have to be able to manage transport if you live here”. The girls were duly let in the car and the two men balanced on the two back seat window ledges with their legs being the only thing that secured their seats.
It is not complete anarchy though and both on leaving Tombo Park, the local bus terminal at Waterloo and on arriving at the police checkpoint at the Kent junction the passengers travelling in the boot and on the bonnet climb down from the car and walk around and meet the car about 10 foot passed these points. Those walking around climb down in front of the police and greet them as they walk past, there is no attempt to hide how they are travelling but it is the principal that the law has been complied with that is being upheld.
I have noticed that women are not expected to sit on the front bonnet, in the boot of a saloon car or the rear side windows of the car and I have to confess that I have never fought for my gender equality rights to do such a thing.
Tito and Bompranney both tell me they like the breeze travelling on the bonnet. Well a breeze here can mean anything from the gentlest stirring of air on a hot, still day to a gale force nine that precedes the fiercest of the rainfalls; I imagine the later is how the experience must feel riding at 80 Km an hour on the bonnet of a car.
Travel by Okada is also available here but the passengers will normally be two. I call this “double Okada” and actually I really enjoy this form of transport even though crash helmets are not used here apart from the driver putting something on to pass the Kent police post.
The rainy season is something to experience. There are days when it is literally impossible to go anywhere outside our immediate house, kitchen, shower, toilet room area. We have an RIB boat with six life jackets as well but when the strong pre rain wind is blowing and the rain is pouring in torrents the visibility is like that in a thick fog in the UK. The other people on the beach use an umbrella to walk from the kitchen to the store-room to the house and most people walk around with black plastic bags on their heads, I don’t bother. There may be plenty of very wet water but it is warm. It is almost like a pleasant shower. Everyone and I mean everyone asks me if I don’t feel cold. I try and describe what it is like to have ice particles fall on your head but this does not translate at all. People here will dress in puffer jackets, heavy denim jackets, full on winter weather clothing at this time of the year and the temperature never falls below 28 degrees Celsius day or night.
When the rains come is when a person has to rationalise the need to travel to Freetown and adjust if necessary. Luckily in July the days where there is a full day of rain is comparatively rare; unfortunately for me in some ways, this time it seems to have happened at the weekends. In this month when it is sunny it is hot and sunny. If it rains and then stops and I can dry out quickly I don’t have a problem. When people asked me why I do not use umbrellas I used to quip “I don’t shrink”, then it dawned on me that this is totally untransferable term culturally. Clothes here are usually second hand (imports from Europe, sold by well some known UK charities that fund raise in Europe and operate in Africa, hmm don’t get me on that subject please!!) and even if not all the washing is done in cold water. I asked everyone on the kitchen log and they confirmed that no-one knew of the concept of shrinking or had any idea of what I was talking about but they had been too polite to mention the fact.
The rains are often accompanied by the most amazing electrical storms that give dramatic audio visual effects that bounce around the hills here and play over and around the sea.
We place a water butt and buckets strategically under the tin (pan) roof and we can collect a bucket of water in less than 20 minutes in this way. We can now even turn this into safe drinking water using the UV rays from six hours of constant sunlight, which we do as a matter of routine. We promote this idea around our area, in particular for the children.
After a period of this really heavy rain all the streams and rivers really gush and some of the pathways become flooded and impassable but we just have to “manage” that living here. I must say I prefer rainy season here to Freetown. In Freetown you still get the floods and with all the hills the water can be one foot high running down the street but it is likely to have passed through some fetid gutters before washing over a person’s feet whilst here it may be wetter but the water is clean.
Last Friday Tito, Bompranney and Umaru, went to buy fish in York in the boat. When they arrived there they were met by the school children of Black Johnson, all there to collect their exam results. Most had passed, some not. The system here is different and if a child doesn’t pass the end of term exams they stay in the same class for the next year for up to three years at which time apparently they are promoted on the grounds they are too big to stay in the other class.
Tito offered them all a lift back in the boat, even though this was “managing transport” Western Peninsular style. They all came back full of end of term high spirits and immediately they all went swimming and playing in the sea. It was lovely to see and their excitement was contagious so I suggested we light a bonfire for them and make them some food and have a small party with music. They were really pleased. Tito told them all to bring some wood for the fire and they went back to the village to have a shower and change into their best party clothes. All of them came, baring bundles of wood on their heads and their parents and others from the village came as well to celebrate success or failure, it didn’t matter, a party is a party and a good time was had by all.
So that is a small introduction to the main characters and the way of life in Black Johnson. It is an amazing place. In many ways the children here have a lovely life where they learn some important skills and have a very healthy life style but in other ways they will be disadvantaged to compete in the modern western world without access to basic learning resources and information. Hopefully the new school we are planning to build in the village will provide this.
Jane (Granny Jane, Aunty Jane, Janey, Mammy etc)